Pagina-afbeeldingen
PDF
ePub

pause to reflect how exaggerated and ridiculous they would sound to any reason able ear.

He found Mr. Williamson alone in the room where Katie was usually ready to receive him in her fresh morning toilet and smile of welcome. The good man wore a puzzled look, and was looking over his bill with his check-book beside him on the table. He looked up when Lord Erradeen came in, with a countenance full of summings up.

"Yes," he said, "I am just settling everything, which is never very pleasant. You need to be just made of money when you come to London. Katie is away this morning by skreigh of day. Oh, yes, it was a very sudden resolution! She just took it into her little head. And here am I left to pay everything, and follow as soon as I can. It is breaking up our pleasant party. But what am I to do? I tell her she rules me with a rod of iron. I hope we'll see a great deal of you in autumn, when you come to Auchnasheen."

Walter went back to his rooms with a fire of resentment in his veins, but yet a sense of exhilaration quite boyish and ridiculous. Whatever might happen, he was free. And now what was to be his next step? To play with fire and Julia, or to take himself out of harm's way? He almost ran against Underwood as he debated this question, hurrying towards his own door.

From The Nineteenth Century.
FOX-HUNTING.

[ocr errors]

from squitch or turnips from tares, and which have already caused the masters of several packs of hounds to discontinue the public advertisement of their meets. Why, then, is fox-hunting, which is generally regarded as the rich man's or country squire's (by no means synonymous terms) amusement, still the popular sport of the nation?

The reason is to be found, first, in the manly predilection inherent to our AngloSaxon nature for a sport into which the element of danger conspicuously enters; and, secondly, in that it is essentially a democratic sport, wherein the favorite socialistic ideal, "The greatest happiness for the greatest number," is in some sort realized. The red coat - and not it alone, but the top-boot, or any outward and visible sign of a fox-hunter covers a multitude of sins. The law of trespass is abolished for the day. The lands of the most exclusive aristocrat are open to the public, whether mounted or pedestrian; and the latter have for some years past shown a keenness for and appreciation of the sport which, though it sometimes does not conduce to its advancement or consummation, is not only remarkable, but also a healthy sign of its continuance in the future.

[ocr errors]

But the fact is that fox-hunting-from the cream of the cream of sportsmen described by "Nimrod," to the humbler class immortalized by "Jorrocks spreads a vast amount of pleasure, satisfaction with self and good-will towards others over a wide surface of humanity. All classes enjoy it. The "good man across country," proud of his skill-prouder still of his reputation, and anxious, sometimes too anxious, to retain it — perhaps derives PERHAPS no greater anomaly no the keenest enjoyment of all, so long as more palpable anachronism - exists than all goes well; but this important proviso fox-hunting in England. Yet it has been shows that his position is not so secure, called, and is, the "national sport." Why? as regards happiness, as that of his humPopulation increases; the island is filling bler, less ambitious, or less proficient up fast. The limited area unoccupied by brethren. A slight accident, a bad start, human dwellings, machineries, and loco- a sudden turn of the hounds- especially motive facilities of all kinds is still, in if in favor of some distinguished rival on spite of bad seasons, as a rule fertile the other flank-will'send him home with enough to supply some considerable pro- a bitterness of soul unknown to and incaportion of the increasing wants of the pable of realization by those whose hopes nation. Every acre worth cultivating, let are centred on a lesser pinnacle of fame waste land reclaimers say what they will, or bliss, with whom to be absolutely first is cultivated; and impoverished landlords is not a sine quâ non for the enjoyment and tenants alike are less than ever able of a run. to bear the losses inflicted by broken fences, unhinged gates, and overridden wheat, which are the result of the inroads of constantly increasing multitudes of ignorant riders unable to distinguish seeds

But supposing all does go well. There is a burning scent, a good fox, a good country; he is on a good horse, and has got a good start; then for the next twenty or thirty minutes (Elysium on earth can

66

scarcely ever last longer) he absorbs as | gallantly in the front with himself; but much happiness into his mental and phys- this cannot last. His is the post of adical organization as human nature is capa- vantage as well as of honor, and a slight ble of containing at one time. Such a turn to the right occurring simultaneously man, so launched on his career, is difficult with the apparition of a strong "bullfinch," to catch, impossible to lead, and not very or grown-up, unpleached thorn fence, safe to follow; but I will try to do the black as Erebus, with only one weak place latter for a page or two on paper. He is possible to bore through, which is luckily riding on the left or right of the hounds just in his line, turns these left-hand com(say the left for present purposes), about petitors into humble followers, for at the parallel with their centre, or a little in pace hounds are going they cannot regain rear of them, if they run evenly and do their parallel positions. As time goes on, not tail, and about fifty yards wide of similar accidents occur to the riders on them. The fields are chiefly grass, and the right, and these, with a fall or two and of good size. The hounds are "racing," a refusal, reduce the front line to two men heads up and sterns down, with very little only, our friend on the left and one rival cry or music-indicative of a scent rarely on the right. A ploughed field, followed bequeathed by modern foxes. The fences by a grass one, ridge-and-furrow and upare, as a rule, strong, but not high- the hill, makes our friend take a pull at his "stake and bound" of the grazing coun- horse, for the ridges are against" or tries; but ever and anon a low but strong across him; they are high and old-fashrail on the nearer, or the glimmer of a ioned, and covered with molehills, while post on the farther side, makes our friend the furrows are very deep and "sticky," communicate silently and mysteriously causing even our skilled friend to roll with his horse- -a fine-shouldered, strong- about rather like a ship at sea, and less quartered animal, almost, if not quite, practised riders to broach to altogether. thoroughbred as he approaches the ob- As he labors across this trying ground, stacle, on the necessity of extra care or in- "hugging the wind," so to speak, as creased exertion. It is, as the rider knows, closely as he can, keeping the sails of his an "oxer," ie., a strongly laid fence, equine craft just full and no more, with a wide ditch, and at an interval of about a tight hold of his head, his anxious eye three or four feet from the latter a strong earnestly scans the sky line, where looms single oak rail secured between stout oak out an obstacle, the most formidable yet posts. Better for him if the ditch is on encountered - a strong, staken-bound the nearer and this rail on the farther fence leaning towards him, which he inside, as, if his horse jumps short, his de- stinctively knows to be garnished on the scending impetus will probably break it, other side with a very wide ditch, whether provided it is not very strong and new, in or not further provided with an ox-rail which case a calamity will probably oc- beyond that, he cannot tell. What he cur; but a collision with such a rail on sees is enough-considering the ground the nearer side may lead to risky compli- he has just traversed, and that he must cations of horse and rider in the wide go at the fence up hill-to wish himself ditch and fence above alluded to. safe over. However, with a sense of relief, he sees a gleam of daylight in it, which he.at first half hopes is a gap, but which turns out to be a good, stiff bit of timber nailed between two ash-trees. It is strong and high, but lower than the fence; the "take off" is good, and there is apparently no width of ditch beyond. So, thanking his stars or favorite saint that "timber" is his horse's special accomplishment, he "goes for it." It don't improve on acquaintance. Now is the time for hands. Often-oh, how often! - have hands saved the head or the neck! and fortunately his are faultless. Without hurry, just restraining his impatience (he has the eagerness of youth), yet leav ing him much to himself, he puts his horse at it in a steady hand canter, drop|ping his hand at the instant the sensible

[ocr errors]

Our friend, however, has an electric or telephonic system of intercourse with his horse (no whip or spur, mind you) which secures him from such disasters, and he sails onwards smoothly his gallant horse taking the fences in his stride. and now, the crowd being long ago disposed of, and his course truly laid for two or three fields ahead, he has leisure to inspect his company. Right and left of him (no true sportsman ever looks back) are some half a dozen good men and true going their own line; those on the right perhaps two hundred yards wide of him, as none but a tailor will ride the line of the hounds, and they on their side allow the same lateral space or interval that he does on his. Those on his left are nearer to him, and so far have done their devoir

[blocks in formation]

secures him from such a fate. About one
hundred yards from the place he "stead-
ies" his horse almost to a hand canter till
within half a dozen strides of the brook,
when he sits down in his saddle, and lets
him
knows what this means, and also by cock-
go at it full speed. The gallant beast
ing his ears, snatching at the bridle, and
snorting impatiently, shows his master
that he is aware of what is before him.
Through the combination of his own
accurate judgment and his master's fine
handling, he takes off exactly at the right
distance, describes an entrancing parab-
ola in the air, communicating to his rider
as near an approach to the sensation of
flying as mortal man can experience, and
lands with a foot to spare on the other
side of the most dreaded and historically
disastrous impediment in the whole coun-
try- a good eighteen feet of open water.

And now, perhaps, our friend realizes the full measure of his condensed happiness, not unmixed with selfishness; as perhaps he would own, while he gallops along the flat meadow, not forgetting to pat his horse, especially as he hears a faint "swish" from the water, already one hundred yards in his rear; the result, as he knows, of the total immersion of his nearest follower, which, as he also knows, will probably bar the way to many more, for a "brook with a man in it" is a frightful example, an objectionable and fear-inspiring spectacle to men and horses alike, and there is not a bridge for miles. As for proffering assistance, I fear it never enters his head. He don't know who it is, and mortal and imminent peril on the part of a dear friend would alone induce him to forego the advantage of his present position, and he knows there are plenty behind too glad of the opportunity, as occasionally with soldiers in a battle, of retiring from the fray in aid of a disabled comrade. So he sails on in glory, the hounds running, if anything, straighter and faster than ever. That very morn

A smooth and gradual slope with comparatively small fences leads down to the conventional line of willows which foreshadows the inevitable brook, without which neither in fact nor story can a good run with hounds occur. Now it is that our hero shows himself a consummate master of his art. The ploughed and ridge-and-furrow fields, above alluded to, followed by the extra exertion of the timber jump at the top of the hill, have rather taken the "puff" out of his gallant young horse, and besides from the same causes the hounds by this time have got rather the better of him. In short, they are a good field ahead of him, and going as fast as ever. This would the eager and excitable novice - aye, not only he, but some who ought to know better-think the right time to recover the lost ground, and "put the steam on" down the hill. O fool! Does the engine-driver "put the steam on " at the top of Shap Fell? He shuts it off- saves it: the incline does the work for him without it. Our friend does the same; pulls his horse together, and for some distance goes no faster than the natural stride of his horse takes him down the hill. Consequently the lungs, with nothing to do, refill with air, and the horse is himself again; whereas, if he had been hurried just at that moment, he would have "gone to pieces" in two fields. Half a mile or so farther on, having by increase of pace and careful observation of the leading hounds, resulting in judicious nicks, recovered his position on the flank of the pack, he finds himself approaching the brook. He may know it to be a big place, or be ignorant of its proportions; but, in either case, his tac-ing, perchance, he was full of care, wor tics are the same. He picks out a spot where no broken banks appear, and the grass is visible on the other side, and where, if any, there may be a stunted bush or two on his side of it; there he knows the bank is sound, for there is nothing more depressing than what may happen, though mounted on the best water jumper in your stable, to find yourself and him, through the breaking down of a treacherous undermined bank in the very act of jumping the brook, subsiding qui. etly into the water. The bush at least

ried by letters from lawyers and stewards, duns, announcements of farms thrown upon his hands; and, if an M. P., of a certain contest at the coming election. Where are all these now? Ask of the winds! They are vanished. His whole. system is steeped in delight; there is not space in it for the absorption of another sensation. Talk of opium! of hashish! they cannot supply such voluptuous entrancement as a run like this!

66

Taking stock" again of his company, he is rather glad to see (for he is not an

utterly selfish fellow) that the man on the right has also got safely over the big brook, and is going well; but there is absolutely no one else in sight. It is clear that unless a "check" of some duration occurs, or the scent should die away, or the fox should deviate from his hitherto straight course, these two cannot be overtaken, or even approached. No such calamity for in this case it would be a calamity takes place; and the hounds, now evincing that peculiar savage eager ness which denotes the vindictive mood known as 66 running for blood," hold on their way across a splendid grass country for some two miles further with undiminished speed. Then an excited rustic is seen waving his hat as he runs to open a gate for our friend on the left, exclaiming, as the latter gallops through with hurried but sincere thanks, "He's close afore 'em; they'll have him soon!" And sure enough, a field or two further the sight of a dark brown object slowly toiling up a long pasture field by the side of a high straggling thorn fence causes our now beaming rider to rise in his stirrups and shout, for the information and encouragement of his companion on the right, "Yonder he goes!" The hounds, though apparently too intent on their work to notice this ejaculation, seem nevertheless to somewhat appreciate its import, for their leaders appear to press forward with a panting, bloodshot impatience ominous of the end. Yet a few more fields, and over the crown of the hill the dark brown object is to be seen in slow rolling progression close before them. And now "from scent to view," with a final crash of hound-clamor followed by dead silence, as fox and hounds together involve themselves in a confused entangled ball or heap in the middle of a splendid pasture only two fields from the wood which had been the fox's point from the first; and many a violated henroost and widowed gander is avenged!

Our friend is off his horse in an instant, and leaving him with outstretched legs and quivering tail (no fear of his running away he had been jumping the last few fences rather "short"), is soon occupied in laying about the hounds' backs with his whip gently and judiciously (it don't do for a stranger to be too energetic or disciplinarian on these rare occasions), and with the help of his friend, who arrives only an instant later, and acts with similar promptitude and judgment, succeeds in clearing a small ring round the dead fox. 66 Whoohoop!" they both shout

alternately, but rather breathlessly, as Ravager and Ruthless make occasional recaptures of the fox, requiring strong coercive measures before they yield possession. "Who has a knife?" They can hardly hear themselves speak; and a fumbling in the pocket, rather than the voice, conveys the inquiry. Our friend has; and placing his foot on the fox's neck, contrives to circumcise and pull off the brush pretty artistically. He hands it to his companion, and wisely deciding to make no post-mortem surgical efforts on the head, holds the stiff corpse aloft for one moment only-the hounds are bounding and snapping, and the situation is getting serious—and hurls it with a final "Whoohoop!" and "Tear him!" which latter exhortation is instantly and literally followed, among the now absolutely uncontrollable canine mob. And now both, rather happy to find themselves unbitten, form themselves on the spot, and deservedly, into a small mutualadmiration society, for they are the sole survivors out of perhaps three hundred people, and ecstatically compare notes on this long-to-be-remembered run. Meanwhile the huntsman first, and the rest of the field by degrees and at long intervals, come straggling up from remote bridges and roads. It has not been a run favorable to the "point rider," who sometimes arrives at the "point" before the fox himself, for it has been quite straight, measuring on the map six miles from point to point, and the time, from the "holloa away to the kill, exactly thirty minutes.

[ocr errors]

And here, leaving our two friends to receive the congratulations (not all of them quite sincere) of an admiring and envious field, and to apologize to the huntsman for the hurried obsequies of the fox, whereby his brush and head - the latter still contended for by some of the more insatiable hounds, and a half-gnawed pad or two- are by this time the only evidence of his past existence, I will leave the record of deeds of high renown, and, having shown the extreme of delight attainable by the first-class men or senior wranglers of fox-hunting, proceed to demonstrate how happiness likewise attends those who don't go in for honors - who are only too happy with a "pass," and what endless sources of joy the huntingfield supplies to all classes of riders. In short, to paraphrase a line of Pope, to See some strange comfort every sort supply.

From the very first I will go to the very last; and among these, strange to say, the

men,

[ocr errors]

ment or dispensation makes every rider contented and happy in his own way.

Among these is to be found the "hard" rider who devotes his attention entirely to fences, and never looks at the hounds at all. Consequently, he never sees a run, but is quite satisfied if he jumps a certain number of large fences, and gets a corresponding average of falls in the day. The

very hardest riding often occurs. When I have found myself as I often have and as may happen through combinations of circumstances to the best of us among the very last in a gallop, I have observed a touching spectacle. Men, miles in the rear, seeing nothing of the hounds, caring nothing for the hounds, riding possibly in an exactly opposite direction to the hounds, yet with firm deter-late Lord Alvanley, seeing one of these mination in their faces, racing at the fences, crossing each other, jostling and cramming in gateways and gaps. These say, are enjoying themselves after their manner, as thoroughly as the front rank. These men neither give nor take quarter, but ride over and are ridden over with equal complacency, without a hound in sight or apparent cause for their violent exertions and daring enterprises. For though the post of honor may be in front, the post of danger is in the mêlée of the rear. Honor to the brave, then, here as in the front. Here, as in the front, there is perfect equality. Here, also, as everywhere in the field, there are the self-assertion, independence, communistic contempt for private property, and complete freedom of action which constitute the main charm of the sport. No questions of precedence here; every man is free to ride where he likes. The chimneysweep can go before the duke, and very often does so. Here, as in the front, precedence at a fence, gap, or gate is settled on the lines of the

66

good old plan,

That he should take who has the power,
And he should keep who can.

The late Mr. Surtees, whose "Jorrocks,"
Sponge," and "Facey Romford" are
immortal characters, used to say that the
tail of a run where he himself almost al-
ways rode, was the place for sport; that,
in addition to the ludicrous incidents
there occuring so frequently for his en-
tertainment, human nature could be stud-
ied with the greatest advantage from that
position. And indeed he was right, for
there is more to study from. And with
what varieties! the half hard, the wholly
soft, the turbulent, the quiescent, the
practical, the geographical, and the politi-
cal or digestion-seeking rider, these men
are to be studied from the rear, because
few of them are ever seen in front; and
nevertheless they return to their homes
justified fully as much in their own opin-
ion as he who has in point of fact, and
undoubtedly, "had the best of it" all
through the run. This merciful arrange-

gentlemen riding furiously at a fence not in the direction of the hounds, shouted to him "Hi! hi!" and when the surprised and somewhat indignant sportsman stopped his horse, and turned to know what was the matter, pointed to another part of the fence and added calmly, "There's a much bigger place here!" This man, too, thoroughly enjoys himself, gets plenty of exercise, and at the same time provides good means of livelihood for the local surgeon. Then there is the violent rider, who would be annoyed if he knew that he was generally called the "Squirter," who gallops, but doesn't jump; though from his severely cut order of clothing, general horsiness of appearance, and energetic behavior in the saddle, he is apt to impose on those who don't know how quiescent and harmless the first fence will immediately render him. His favorite field of operations is a muddy lane, where he gallops past with squared elbows and defiant aspect, scattering more mud behind him than any one horse and man ever before projected or cast back upon an astonished and angered public. Through the gate, if any, at the end he crams his way, regardless alike of such expressions as

Take care!" "Where are you coming to?" an absurd question, decidedly, the object being evident—and also very properly disregarding and treating with utter contempt the man (always to be found in a gateway) who says "There is no hurry!" a gratuitous falsehood, as his own conduct sufficiently proves. In the open field beyond he rushes like a whirlwind past any one who may be in front, and, so long as gates or only small gaps are in his line, pursues a triumphant course. But he has no root, and in time of temptation is apt to fall away: that is, the moment a fence of the slightest magnitude presents itself. Then he fades away disappears, and is no more seen; yet he, like the ephemera, has had his day, though a short one, and returns to his well-earned rest contented and happy.

Then there is a character for whom I have always had a sincere respect and sympathy the "hard funker."

Than

« VorigeDoorgaan »